Best of news 2014

Round up of the year's best news

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  • | 7:00 a.m. December 24, 2014
Photo by: Tim Freed - Mayor Ken Bradley rings the bell at the first arrival of the SunRail train in Winter Park. He has served two terms as mayor in Winter Park. He will not seek a third term.
Photo by: Tim Freed - Mayor Ken Bradley rings the bell at the first arrival of the SunRail train in Winter Park. He has served two terms as mayor in Winter Park. He will not seek a third term.
  • Winter Park - Maitland Observer
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From commuter rail coming to town, to Winter Park making it's SuperBowl debut, and Maitland marking major milestones, it's been a big year for news in our community. Take a look back with the Observer at some of its highlights as we offer our annual Year in Review:

SunRail hits the tracks

Central Florida’s vision of a new commuter rail became a reality this year, as SunRail started chugging up and down the tracks. Service launched May 1 connecting downward from DeBary to Orlando, with stops in Winter Park and Maitland along the way. Local and state elected officials helped celebrate each station’s grand opening in the month’s leading up to the commuter rail system’s launch. Read The Observer’s coverage of the Winter Park SunRail Station ribbon-cutting at

Winter Parker gets a hero's welcome

Winter Park’s Lt. Chuck Nadd received a welcome home fit for a hero when he returned to his hometown from Afghanistan in January. Nadd and his girlfriend Shannon Cantwell sat atop the Budweiser wagon pulled by the brewery’s famous Clydesdales as confetti puffed through the air and a marching band trumpeted their arrival. Footage of the parade would be featured the next month in prime time as part of the beer brand’s SuperBowl commercial. Read all about it in our Jan. 16 story at

Home for a hero

Sgt. First Class Bacary Sambou struggled to remain conscious. The blast outside his MRAP vehicle had thrown him to the steel floor inside. He couldn’t move his arms or legs. Two years later, still limited in mobility in both his arms and legs but home from Afghanistan, the wounded veteran would receive news that Winter Park City Commission planned to donate land to allow local organizations to give Sambou a home of his own free of charge. Read Sambou’s full story and how the community came together to help build him a home of his own at

Capen House connected

Both pieces of the historic Capen House were reunited on their new foundation on the grounds of the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Garden in April– more than four months after they were split apart to travel across Lake Osceola. The placement of the house brought the project one step closer to completion since the Winter Park community first stepped up to save the house from demolition in June 2013. Read about the Capen House’s long journey to unity in our story “Capen House halves connected” at

Uniting against density

Winter Park residents needed to only drive through a nearby neighborhood to see what residents were up in arms against this summer. An organization of residents called Citizens for Managed Growth made a statement in July with a slew of signs in front yards opposed to higher density in the city. Resident Sally Flynn of Citizens for Managed Growth said group members distributed more than 450 yellow “no density” signs– a response to increasing development, pending density code changes and the threat of worsening traffic problems. Read all about Winter Park residents fight against bigger development online at

Baldwin Park VA gets green light

The Baldwin Park VA Medical Center got a new lease on life in July, with Congressman John Mica announcing that the facility received the go-ahead from Washington to stay open even after the new, larger VA Medical Center opens in Lake Nona. Mica lobbied for the Baldwin Park facility to keep its doors open amid concerns that the Lake Nona location wouldn’t have enough room to serve all local veterans’ needs. The centrally located Baldwin Park facility had served veterans for decades before the new facility was announced in Lake Nona, which would be located more than 20 miles from downtown Orlando in one of metro Orlando’s most geographically removed areas. On July 29, Mica confirmed that the Lake Baldwin location, which sees and estimated 100,000 veterans a year, would continue offering services through 2023. Read more at

Course scores 100 years

Winter Park’s favorite nine-hole golf course went national in September. Residents, local politicians and pro golfers gathered at the Winter Park Country Club on the morning of Sept. 16 to celebrate its 100-year anniversary – and its induction into a historic collection of Florida golf courses. The course that pro golfer — and Winter Park resident — Nick Faldo reportedly has called “Winter Park National” got a dose of national exposure, with The Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive” show setting up right next to the first tee for a special show about the course’s centennial. Residents cheered as a commemorative centennial clock – a donation from the Elizabeth Morse Genius Foundation — was unveiled beside the course’s practice putting green. Read all about the course’s 100 years of history at

Landmark marked

Maitland’s so-called “hidden treasure” isn’t quite so hidden anymore. Two years of vetting and decades of dedicated work in preservation culminated on Sept. 30 with an announcement by the U.S. Department of the Interior: The Maitland Art Center officially earned the designation as the first National Historic Landmark in Orange County, and the 44th in the state of Florida. The designation admits the Maitland Art Center into an exclusive club of just over 2,500 sites in the nation deemed by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to “possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States.” Read our full story online at

Republican wave changes tide

Much of Maitland and Winter Park were seeing red as election results rolled in in November, with Republican challenger Bob Cortes ousting incumbent Democrat State House Rep. Karen Castor-Dentel in District 30 and the landslide re-election of long-term Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica in District 7. Cortes has previously served as a member of the Longwood City Commission since 2009, and will replace one-term State Rep. Castor-Dentel, a former Dommerich Elementary School teacher. In the Congressional race to represent Winter Park, Rep. John Mica earned the right to return to Washington, D.C., to continue his 20-plus year tenure representing Central Florida in the Capitol winning 63 percent of the vote compared to his Democratic opponent, Wes Neuman and independent Al Krulick. Relive our election night coverage online at

Something wild in Winter Park

There’s been something wild lurking in Winter Park this year. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission took action in September after receiving multiple calls about coyote sightings in the city, posting a warning to keep on the lookout for the wild animals. A sign placed outside the Publix on Aloma Avenue read “coyotes in area,” warning residents not to leave food or pets outside at night. Multiple food sources and increased development in Central Florida would likely explain the recent coyote sightings, said a Florida Fish and Wildlife spokesman, but no one knows for sure how they came to call Winter Park home. Read all about Winter Park’s ongoing coyote problems in our Sept. 11 article, “coyotes nearing Park Avenue” online at

Maitland to get downtown

In the wee- morning hours of Nov. 18, a room full of Maitland residents threw a small celebration more than a decade in the making. They hugged, clapped, patted each other on the back, sighed and shook hands. Six and a half hours after an overflow crowd entered Maitland City Council Chambers on Monday night, half of them finally had something to celebrate: news that a longtime downtown eyesore would soon be torn down, and mixed-use redevelopment would eventually rise from the ashes. The project will transform the block between Packwood and Horatio avenues sandwiched between U.S. Highway 17-92 and Independence Lane. The old Winn-Dixie property and the New Traditions Bank Plaza will both be torn down and replaced with a 220-unit apartment building, 42,000-square-feet of retail space, a 503-space parking garage, and a 41-space surface parking lot. Developer David Lamm said he hopes the development will bring the community together, giving them a centralized place in the sprawling town. Read all about what will become of Maitland downtown online at